People have used methamphetamines to get high for many years. For instance, during the Second World War, Japanese pilots were given methamphetamines to help them stay awake.
As a street drug, meth came of age in the United States in the ’70s and ’80s. It was primarily made using ephedrine, often sourced from then over-the-counter medicines like Sudafed and cooked in small batches. But starting in the late ’90s, drug experts and DEA agents noticed a change in how meth was made for street distribution.
This new way of making new meth superseded the old method. Criminals who previously could only make small batches of five to 10 pounds of meth over a three-day period could now make about 240 pounds in a single batch.
This new, more deadly meth is primarily made from a clear liquid called phenyl-2-propanone or P2P. According to an article in The Atlantic magazine from November 2021, P2P is created using cheap, often legally available but toxic chemicals, including cyanide, lye, mercury, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and nitrostyrene.
Originally developed by biker gangs in California in the 1980s, it started to dominate the meth trade in the early 2000s. Once upon a time, a pound of methamphetamine could cost $10,000. However, this change in the method of production has led to a tidal wave of available meth on the streets. New meth is so cheap that in some places, it’s given away as a gateway drug.
Hollywood Meth Stereotypes Have Changed — It’s More Deadly Than Ever
Hollywood has given most of America a rather romanticized view of meth. The popular TV series Breaking Bad saw a high school chemistry teacher who’d been given a cancer diagnosis start selling meth to pay his medical bills.
Interestingly, the show also depicted the change from the old meth to the new meth. While the series was very well acted and may have depicted some of the dangerous aspects of the drug trade, it did a very poor job of illustrating the medical dangers of taking new meth.
What Are the Changes in Methamphetamine and Why Is It More Dangerous?
The new meth produces significantly different reactions in users than old meth. The ephedrine-based methamphetamine sold on the streets in the latter part of the 20th century often produced a kind of euphoria. You could often tell a person was on meth because they became extremely chatty, hyperalert and excited about unexpected things.
New meth, however, produces changes in the brain that lead to feelings of isolation, rage and paranoia. As one doctor described it in the Atlantic article, “The symptoms were always similar: violent paranoia, hallucinations, conspiracy theories, isolation, massive memory loss, jumbled speech. Methamphetamine is a neurotoxin — it damages the brain no matter how it is derived. But P2P meth seems to create a higher order of cerebral catastrophe.”
One of the biggest changes created by new meth use has been a rise in homelessness and mental illness across America, such as in Portland, Oregon. In 2020, the city had to close the downtown sobering station it operated as a place for alcoholics to spend 6 to 8 hours sobering up. The station was forced to deal with more and more homeless people addicted to new meth and couldn’t handle the overflow.
Rachel Solotaroff, the CEO of Central City Concern, the social-service nonprofit that ran the station, told The Atlantic, “The degree of mental-health disturbance; the wave of psychosis; the profound, profound disorganization [is something] I’ve never seen before.”
Another big change is the number of deaths tied to the use of new meth. In a National Institutes of Health study published in JAMA Psychiatry in September 2021, researchers reported that the deaths of Americans aged 18 to 64 caused by new meth tripled between 2015 and 2019.
According to researchers, overdose deaths from psychostimulant drugs other than cocaine, which were largely due to methamphetamine use, increased from 5,526 to 15,489, or 180%, from 2015 to 2019. In contrast, the number of individuals who reported using methamphetamine only rose by 43% during the same time period.
What Has Driven These Changes?
Several factors led to the dramatic increase in the use of new meth. One was the decriminalization of marijuana. When criminals who grew marijuana saw their business dry up, they switched to new meth production. The drug was easier to make and move than growing and selling marijuana. This led to the increased circulation of new meth on the streets of America.
Another factor was the opioid crisis. While drugs like Suboxone prevented opioid users from overdosing, these drugs never dealt with underlying addictions. As a result, more and more opioid users started to use new meth, along with the drugs that protected them from opioid overdoses, to get high again.
Then there was the pandemic. New meth creates feelings of isolation, and so it was a drug that was much easier for drug addicts to use alone than others that might drive them to be more socially engaged.
How Methamphetamine, Particularly the New Kind, Causes Permanent Damage
New meth isn’t a drug to be used recreationally as it’s extremely dangerous. As a recent article about new meth in the Santa Monica Daily pointed out, “Prolonged use of the drug can cause severe health and brain damage and lead to temporary or permanent psychosis. Users can be rendered incapable of maintaining themselves, communicating rationally with others and may become consumed with paranoia.”
Help for Methamphetamine Use From FHE Health
It’s possible to recover from using new meth. The Atlantic article, for instance, includes interviews with several recovered addicts. But each of them mentions how important it is to find someone to help.
If you’re dealing with an addiction to new meth, we can help. Don’t be afraid to reach out. We have a compassionate team of counselors available 24/7 who can help you get on the road to recovery. Contact us today by calling (844) 299-0618.